Public pools are one of the very best places to learn about body diversity. Old bodies and young bodies, hairy bodies and smooth bodies, dad bodies and mom bodies, disabled bodies and baby bodies, tattooed bodies and scarred bodies. There are so many kinds of bodies and all of them are worthy of having fun with their family and friends in the summertime water. Sometimes all the kid bodies cannonballing into the pool make tiny chlorine waves that crash onto the sides of the pool and spill into the grate making sounds like the ocean smacking into the beach floor. At least that’s what my imagination thinks it might sound like on a warm ocean vacation; I’m good at creating adventures in my own backyard. Sometimes when I’m not making up stories in my head in the water I’m devouring a good one on the sidelines. I’ve read so many books during my ten years on the grasses at the Boise public pools - feminist history to fat activism, smutty romance to young adult lit.
A decade ago it cost less than $100 for a family pass to our public pool system. And I say system because there are like six of them run by our parks & rec department and they are all pretty great in their own way. One has an inflatable “wipe out” course a few days of the week, a couple have two diving boards. One has a splash pad and one has a hydrotube. Our favorite, of course, is the one closest to our house with a very shallow baby pool with fountains and a very deep big pool with water slides for my kids who are a decade apart. It’s necessary and difficult to find places that can be fun and entertain the whole family on such a budget when you’ve got a teenager and a toddler and one in between.
Nowadays the pool sells season passes per person, and they’re only around $20 for kids and $30 for adults and it gets you into all the pools all summer long. The pools usually open up on the last day of school - the “first” day of summer - regardless if it’s cool and rainy. I used to pick the girls up from their last day (which was always a half day) and have a bag of bathing suits and treats and we’d celebrate with sno-cones at our neighborhood pool with friends. Now that the girls are bigger I make them use their own money for the snack shack because our daily trips make it just too expensive to treat them every day; I always bring Tupperwares of pretzels and goldfish crackers and apples and string cheese. Sometimes I bring my own lemonade spiked with vodka.
This year is the first one in the last decade where I haven’t held a baby or small child in my arms in the water - they are for the first time all three independent swimmers. I’ve spent so many hours holding them in my arms in the pool, the waves gently rocking them to sleep, turning my back to the sun to shade their fragile skin. Sometimes, when I got too hot and their toes begin to wrinkle, I would try to slowly lift myself and their dead weight from the water and walk carefully barefoot on the wet concrete back to our grassy spot and lay them on a towel in the shade.
We often have to sit out on the grass for like an hour when he lifeguards find a floater (poop) or someone puked and they have to amp up the chlorine and let it self-clean. My kids still get worried that someone is hurt no matter how many times the guards do the “pretend someone is drowning” procedure to keep on top of their skills. Last year a lifeguard at our favorite pool grabbed me on the last day of the season and told me they “voted” on their favorite bikini of mine that season and while they loved them all, the agreed on a favorite - the yellow one.
I no longer have to watch my kids like a hawk, trying to pick out their bathing suits from the sea of wet kids or keep them within arm’s length lest I be reprimanded by a lifeguard’s whistle. I do still have to sit on the side of the pool with my feet dangling in to make sure that Arlo doesn’t veer off with trumped up bravery to the deepest ends but stays where he can touch. But I’m able to zone out for a moment and let my eyes briefly glaze over and pretend that I might be at some expensive Mexican resort and my next frozen cocktail will be handed to me by a darling waiter.
And then I snap out of it and remember I’m in Boise, Idaho, and it’s 99 degrees but I’ll stay until they close to keep my kids entertained and from fighting with each other over who gets to pick the Netflix show. I used to have other parent friends and playgroups that would come to the pool with me and we’d follow each other around the baby pool, trying to talk about adult things while snatching waddling babies from toppling underwater. These days I’m usually there as the sole adult, often with several other neighborhood kids in tow, none of whom I’ll see for hours. Sometimes my littlest still falls asleep on the grass and I cover his exposed skin with my swim wrap to protect it. I have done phone interviews with major magazines and recorded podcasts and received amazing phone calls from the shores of the public pool. I’ve been contacted by celebrities and rejected by book publishers and fought trolls while eating $1 ice cream sandwiches and applying more sunscreen. I’ve inspired, challenged, received love notes and tears from other patrons, my fellow swimmers. Mostly I lay silently and look up at the bluest sky through the pine trees while the warm sun kisses my skin and enjoy the slowing down that my favorite season brings.